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What Can Cause Heel Discomfort To Flare Up

Plantar Fascitis


The plantar fascia (a connective tissue structure) stretches from the toes and ball of the foot, through the arch, and connects to the heel bone in three places: outside, center and inside. Normally it helps the foot spring as it rolls forward. It also provides support for the arch of the foot. The plantar fascia helps keep the foot on track, cutting down on oscillation. When the foot over-pronates (rolls to the inside) the plantar fascia tries to stabilize it and prevent excessive roll. In time, the inside and sometimes center connections are overstressed and pull away from their attachments. The first sign is usually heel pain as you rise in the morning. When you walk around, the pain may subside, only to return the next morning. Inflammation and increased soreness are the results of long-term neglect and continued abuse. A heel bone spur may develop after a long period of injury when there is no support for the heel. The plantar fascia attaches to the heel bone with small fibers. When these become irritated they become inflamed with blood containing white blood cells. Within the white blood cells are osteoblasts which calcify to form bone spurs and calcium deposits. The body is trying to reduce stress on that area by building a bone in the direction of stress. Unfortunately, these foreign substances cause pain and further irritation in the surrounding soft tissue.


The plantar fascia can also become aggravated by repetitive activity. If you increase the number of times the heel hits the ground, that can cause plantar fasciitis, a number of people develop problems when their feet are unaccustomed to hard tile or wood floors. Other risk factors for plantar fasciitis include obesity, an extra high or low foot arch, and activities like running.


Symptoms of plantar fasciitis include pain in the heel of the foot. Some people complain of a sharp stabbing pain especially with walking. Others describe the pain as a dull ache after prolonged standing. The pain of plantar fasciitis is often worst in the morning or following activity.


Your GP or podiatrist (a healthcare professional who specialises in foot care) may be able to diagnose the cause of your heel pain by asking about your symptoms and examining your heel and foot. You will usually only need further tests if you have additional symptoms that suggest the cause of your heel pain is not inflammation, such as numbness or a tingling sensation in your foot, this could be a sign of nerve damage in your feet and legs (peripheral neuropathy) your foot feels hot and you have a high temperature (fever) of 38C (100.4F) or above - these could be signs of a bone infection, you have stiffness and swelling in your heel, this could be a sign of arthritis. Possible further tests may include blood tests, X-rays - where small doses of radiation are used to detect problems with your bones and tissues, a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan or ultrasound scan, which are more detailed scans.

Non Surgical Treatment

As with most soft tissue injuries the initial treatment is Rest, Ice, and Protection. In the early phase you’ll most likely be unable to walk pain-free. Our first aim is to provide you with some active rest from pain-provoking foot postures. This means that you should stop doing any movement or activity that provoked your foot pain in the first place. Ice is a simple and effective modality to reduce your pain and swelling. Please apply for 20-30 minutes each 2 to 4 hours during the initial phase or when you notice that your injury is warm or hot. A frozen water bottle can provide you with a ice foot roller that can simultaneously provide you with some gentle plantar fascia massage. Anti-inflammatory medication (if tolerated) and natural substances eg arnica may help reduce your pain and swelling. However, it is best to avoid anti-inflammatory drugs during the initial 48 to 72 hours when they may encourage additional bleeding. Most people can tolerate paracetamol as a pain reducing medication. To support and protect your plantar fascia, you may need to be wear a plantar fascia brace, heel cups or have your foot taped to provide pain relief. As mentioned earlier, the cause of your plantar fasciitis will determine what works best for you. Your physiotherapist will guide you. Your physiotherapist will guide you and utilise a range of pain relieving techniques including joint mobilisations for stiff joints, massage, electrotherapy, acupuncture or dry needling to assist you during this pain-full phase.

Plantar Fasciitis

Surgical Treatment

The majority of patients, about 90%, will respond to appropriate non-operative treatment measures over a period of 3-6 months. Surgery is a treatment option for patients with persistent symptoms, but is NOT recommended unless a patient has failed a minimum of 6-9 months of appropriate non-operative treatment. There are a number of reasons why surgery is not immediately entertained including. Non-operative treatment when performed appropriately has a high rate of success. Recovery from any foot surgery often takes longer than patients expect. Complications following this type of surgery can and DO occur! The surgery often does not fully address the underlying reason why the condition occurred therefore the surgery may not be completely effective. Prior to surgical intervention, it is important that the treating physician ensure that the correct diagnosis has been made. This seems self-evident, but there are other potential causes of heel pain. Surgical intervention may include extracorporeal shock wave therapy or endoscopic or open partial plantar fasciectomy.


Warm up properly. This means not only stretching prior to a given athletic event, but a gradual rather than sudden increase in volume and intensity over the course of the training season. A frequent cause of plantar fasciitis is a sudden increase of activity without suitable preparation. Avoid activities that cause pain. Running on steep terrain, excessively hard or soft ground, etc can cause unnatural biomechanical strain to the foot, resulting in pain. This is generally a sign of stress leading to injury and should be curtailed or discontinued. Shoes, arch support. Athletic demands placed on the feet, particularly during running events, are extreme. Injury results when supportive structures in the foot have been taxed beyond their recovery capacity. Full support of the feet in well-fitting footwear reduces the likelihood of injury. Rest and rehabilitation. Probably the most important curative therapy for cases of plantar fasciitis is thorough rest. The injured athlete must be prepared to wait out the necessary healing phase, avoiding temptation to return prematurely to athletic activity. Strengthening exercises. Below are two simple strength exercises to help condition the muscles, tendons and joints around the foot and ankle. Plantar Rolling, Place a small tin can or tennis ball under the arch of the affected foot. Slowly move the foot back and forth allowing the tin can or tennis ball to roll around under the arch. This activity will help to stretch, strengthen and massage the affected area. Toe Walking, Stand upright in bare feet and rise up onto the toes and front of the foot. Balance in this position and walk forward in slow, small steps. Maintain an upright, balanced posture, staying as high as possible with each step. Complete three sets of the exercise, with a short break in between sets, for a total of 20 meters.